Don't stop the progress

Published: Sunday | October 6, 2013 Comments 0
PortMiami is already readying for expansion of the Panama Canal with work on its wharves in preparation for deepening the channel to accompany post-Panamax ships. But as the clock ticks before the expansion completion, Jamaica is still not ready to take full advantage.
PortMiami is already readying for expansion of the Panama Canal with work on its wharves in preparation for deepening the channel to accompany post-Panamax ships. But as the clock ticks before the expansion completion, Jamaica is still not ready to take full advantage.

Norris McDonald, Guest Columnist

The Goat Islands/Portland Bright issue has been in the spotlight since China proposed a massive infusion of capital to port development. There have also been ongoing email campaigns that have suddenly surfaced, lobbying against this project.


It is well recognised that social tension will always exist between the demands of social development and the requirements of modernisation.

However, I believe that there has been an oversimplification of this issue - to focus purely on how wicked it would be to destroy our beauty spots and kill some fish. Will there be a major ecological disaster, as the naysayers claim, or will this project develop without major environmental impact and, over the long run, help to boost national capital formation?

A major challenge faced by the countries emerging from colonialism is the inability to boost national investment. Usually, sources of national capital formation have been foreign investment that have generated great returns to the investor without promoting a balanced development of the countries where foreign capital has made their domain.

Over the last 50 years, despite its naysayers, China promoted a change in its investment, opening possibilities for economic growth. After a long process of retooling, China has emerged as a banker of first and last resort to the whole world.

Chinese capital is promoting growth in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Many large corporations in Europe and America have turned to China for a bailout. Quite interestingly, at the height of the recent financial crisis, many European leaders rushed, hat in hand, to beg China to save their lives.

Why then should Jamaica, as a country still gripped by social, economic, and cultural backwardness, not seek development assistance which can accelerate the process of industrialisation and, by this rule, the increase in national capital-cum-investment stock?

Meanwhile, it seems so ironic that we are getting environmental lessons from individuals whose inner psychosis is driven by a pathological belief in the free-market system. It is not so much that free-market economy is bad, per se, but unbridled capitalism (and its supporters) has no love for the environment or environmental regulation.

To use just one example - the Western love of caviar has decimated sturgeon. How ironic it is that the lessons of environmentalism are being promoted by the values of social demagogues who advocate free-market policies which decimate the environment?

It's not a pretty picture that in countries such as Bangladesh, Western consumerism's abuse of environmental regulations, with thousands of unsafe sweat-shop garment factories, have led to the deaths of thousands of workers as these unsafe factories periodically collapse. In Mexico, the Maquilladores developed in the border areas without regard for environmental safety.

We do not even have to go too far to find that modern manufacturing, based upon privatisation and deregulation, sees factory inspection as hindrances to free-market business climate. How can individuals in Jamaica or America keep a straight face and speak about the environment to people whose livelihood has been tied to the land?

BACKWARD DEVELOPMENT

It is because of the backward economic development polices, based upon deregulation, privatisation and liberalisation, promoted by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, why there is so much challenge faced by developing countries to promote harmonious development.

Rural farm life, in countries such as ours, has been destroyed by economic polices that seek to

free up cheap labour, at the expense of rural agricultural development. It behoves us, therefore, to see how we can accelerate Jamaica's industrial development to help to keep some of the anger of the urban youth in check.

It is fortuitous, therefore, that a programme of modernisation has emerged which can create a feedback effect on other sectors of the economy. Who knows if in the next few years we may not be able to pay off the IMF and say bye-bye?

This being said, is it really necessary to remind the dear readers that one cannot separate love for the environment from the love for our fellow humans? But as strange as it seems, we humans tend to forget to love our neighbours as ourselves and so we wage wars based upon differences or religion, race, and political creed.

History is replete with many brutal examples of the wars that have devastated the environment and brought ruin and tears to families, including little children. Why then do we pretend that we can love fish, love turtles, love our pets and nature and yet we can't love each other? Why is it that only when it is convenient that we love our environment, but may well contribute to dirty gullies, beaches and public parks.

POLICY IMPLICATIONS

This Goat Islands/Portland Bright project teases our environmental consciousness like Jesus picking someone's corn on the Sabbath because He was hungry. However, the urgency to boost national job creation suggests that in the risk-reward trade-off we have more to lose if we reject this project.

Given policy implications, environmental consciousness cannot be used, as a matter of convenience, to hold back economic development. To do this is to run the risk of using the environment as a matter of convenience, that is to say, the environment is remembered like to the poor on Sunday when we go to church. Therefore, it is because of the risk-reward that concerns this issue why all well-thinking persons ought to support this issue.

There are other serious policy implications which ought to be carefully weighed in any discussion of this issue.

First, after 500 years of colonialism and 50 years of the International Monetary Fund/World Bank policies, there has been more devastation to our national environment than these policies can engender. For example, the type of pauperism promoted by the IMF/World Bank has contributed to massive deforestation in the developing nations as poor people, who cannot afford fuel, cut and burn wood to either use for fuel or, to burn coal and sell.

And to clarify, the issue is not that they have already destroyed the environment, 'so it's OK to finish the job'. The fundamental issue is that if Jamaica can accelerate the process of industrialisation, as a concomitant effect, capital can be generated to rehabilitate national fishery, the rest of our coastline, and wetlands.

Second, there is the issue of the economic imperatives and the possibility that there may well be others who may not be pleased that we are charting our own independent course. For example, I find it strange that a major US organisation, CHANGE.ORG, that has stayed silent on many issues that affect the well-being of the Jamaican urban poor, the rural poor and the middle classes is weighing in on this issue.

Indeed, it is very surprising that an online petition is being circulated by CHANGE.ORG on the issue of Goat Islands and Portland Bright. (See: http://www.change.org/petitions/stop-jamaica-s-govt-china-port-development-of-goat-island-jamaica-west-indies). Among the issues referenced are the following:

"There is a situation brewing in Jamaica where China wants to build a massive shipping port. The Government already set aside the Portland Bight Protected Area, the Goat Islands, area and surrounding waters for endangered species. The Jamaican Government did an about-face now the area is being considered for development of this port."

This email came from one Hansen von Shneir of CHANGE.ORG, and there is no way to ascertain its motive and veracity. Let us, however, set aside any pejoratives, and assume, for purpose of argument, that the writer is well-thinking. It is great that CHANGE.ORG, a very well-known progressive organisation, is focusing its resources on little Jamaica. It would be nice, though, if they could organise a petition to get the IMF to ease their stranglehold over our small farmers, workers and middle class' throats.

Let's face it. There are many overriding economic policy issues that would justify a challenge to these do-gooders. For example, there are several United States ports, including the Port of Miami, that are rapidly expanding to take advantage of the expansion of the Panama Canal and the US$40-billion Interoceanic canal proposed by the Chinese in Nicaragua.

The widening and dredging from the modernisation of the Panama Canal is a direct manifestation of the increased demand of shipping and port services. Why then should Jamaica not throw itself into the mix to benefit from this new phenomenon of globalisation?

This project is in the interest of Jamaica's industrial development. Therefore, any objection must include an alternative source of development capital which can help to lift Jamaica out of the ravages of poverty and degradation which are long-lasting legacies left by slavery and colonialism.

Norris McDonald is an economic journalist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and miaminorris@yahoo.com.

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